California Vehicle Retirement

California's Voluntary Accelerated Vehicle RetirementProgram (VAVR)—also known as the car scrap or recycling program—aims to get California junk cars off the highways by providing cash incentives to drivers in order to purchase newer, more fuel-efficient vehicles.

NOTE: The VAVR program is funded on a yearly basis. Once funds run out, residents must wait until the next fiscal year to file for the incentives. Consult the California Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) website for details.

California VAVR Requirements

Generally, your vehicle must fail the smog check before it's eligible for the VAVR program, and that failure must not be due to:

  • Ignition timing adjustment.
  • Failed gas cap functional test.
  • Tampered emissions control system.

In some cases, your vehicle might be eligible for a local air district program without having failed the smog test. See VAVR Program District Information below.

California provides an extensive list of additional requirements for its vehicle retirement program; for example, the vehicle:

  • CANNOT be undergoing a first-time registration, re-registration, or title transfer.
  • Must be registered and titled in your name.
  • Must have:
    • A valid registration sticker.
    • Have all DMV fees paid and NOT have a registration that has been expired longer than 120 days during a period of 2 years.
  • Must be a passenger car, truck, van, or sports utility vehicle (SUV) with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 10,000 lbs. or fewer.
  • CANNOT be registered to a fleet, non-profit organization, or other business.
  • CANNOT be a salvaged or dismantled vehicle that's not re-registered with the DMV.

However, there are a few different requirements for low-income vehicle owners. For example, an individual must first qualify as a low-income car owner, meaning the household income is 225% of the federal poverty level or less.

Regardless of income status, you can only recycle the following within a period of 12 months:

  • 1 vehicle if you're the sole owner.
  • 2 vehicles if you're a joint owner.

Each vehicle must meet specific equipment and operational requirements.

The state's Consumer Assistance Program provides a full list of requirements for California's car recycling program.

VAVR Cash Incentives

Currently, the cash for junk cars incentives are simple:

  • Basic: $1,000 per vehicle.
  • Low-income: $1,500 per vehicle.

Local Air VAVR District Information

Even if your vehicle passed its smog test or isn't subject to one, it might still be eligible for a local air district VAVR program.

Currently, the following districts offer such programs:

  • Antelope Valley.
  • Mojave Desert.
  • Bay Area.
  • Santa Barbara County.
  • South Coast.
  • Ventura County.

For more information about each district's requirements and contact information, visit the state's page on District VAVR Program Information.

VAVR Processes & Forms

If you're planning on scrapping a car through the VAVR Program, you must:

  • Consult with the CAP website to see if the retirement funds are available. 
  • Check your vehicle's eligibility. Refer to the state's Vehicle Retirement Requirements for information.
  • Complete a Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) Application.
    • Mail the completed application to the address listed on the form.
    • If you believe you meet low-income eligibility requirements, refer to state's Household Income Information  You must include any required paperwork with your CAP application.
  • Wait for your determination letter or Letter of Eligibility, which will let you know whether your vehicle qualifies for the scrap car program.
  • If approved, bring your vehicle to an authorized dismantler before the expiration date indicated on your Letter of Eligibility.
    • Make sure you bring your vehicle's valid title. If your title is altered, contact the dismantler for further assistance before bringing your vehicle in.
    • All registered owners must be present; otherwise, a Power of Attorney is necessary.
    • All registered owners must bring photo identification.

Once your vehicle passes the equipment and operational inspection, the dismantler will issue you a check for the appropriate amount. You are responsible for finding your own way home.

Additional CA Car Scrapping Information

For more information about California's VAVR Program, contact the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) at (800) 952-5210 or visit the Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) website.

DMV.ORG BBB Business Review